Almost Endless City Part I - Opening Pages of Chapter 1 (1271 words)

Not open for further replies.

Heijan Xavier
Apr 17, 2016
This is the opening for a novel I am about 2/3 done with. I have created a WIP website as well. More of the story is posted on the website if you care to read on, in addition to maps and concept drawings. The website is listed in "press releases" and on "what are you working on right now."

Obviously the flow of the writing needs to be critiqued but the most important thing I want to know is, do you want to read on??

For those who have seen me Chronning these last 2 years, now you know the origin of my odd screen name.


Chapter 1 –Near Miscarriage

Xaviera woke up in pain. Last night’s mild aches she had attributed to the stretching and shifting of the start of her third trimester. Something was definitely wrong now though. Her abdomen was cramping, and her lower back was throbbing. She tried to ignore it, but the pain came in waves every 15 minutes or so. Each wave was more painful than the last until the tightness became almost paralyzing.

“Something is wrong.” She muttered to herself, still half asleep.

“What?” Heijan responded. He was surprisingly alert for 3:30 in the morning.

“Something’s wrong.” As she heard her own words they became more real. “Something’s wrong, something’s wrong!” She was almost screaming now and becoming panicked.

Heijan turned on the light. He was focused and serious, yet quite calm considering the circumstances. He gently laid his hand on her belly and slowly pulled the sheets down past her hips. Before he saw between her legs, an awful odor wafted up to his nose.

Xaviera smelt it too. Laying prone, she couldn’t see beyond her belly, so she stared at Heijan’s face waiting for a reaction to confirm the inevitable.

Heijan winced, but barely. He was focused on the blood-soaked shorts and sheets that were before him. His gaze remained focused and stern though. He lifted his head and stared out the window. He puckered his lips slightly as he clenched his jaw a few times. 4 seconds of Heijan’s thought felt like 4 hours to Xaviera, but his focus finally returned from the 300 miles of sprawling city lights beyond the window and back into the bedroom.

“Lay back down for a minute.” He said as he gathered the sheets into a bundle that hid the blood, then threw them off the bed. He ran to the closet and returned with an armful of clean sheets. He wrapped her hips and legs very carefully with a towel and then with a bedsheet. He then scooped her up under the arm and legs. With surprising ease, he picked up her pregnant body and moved smoothly through the tight angular spaces of the ante-room and into his office. His face remained calm and focused as he placed her squarely in his desk chair. Then, unexpectedly, he hopped on the back of the chair, his feet on the hover-base and his arms on the armrests with his hands on the controls.

Xaviera knew that Heijan had made some modifications to their cheap, off the shelf, office desk chair, but with over 300 pounds of weight not very evenly distributed, the chair remained stable and centered, and barely dipped and rose as he piloted it swiftly around the tight corners and doorways of the master suite. He then turned left down the main hallway.

“Where are you going?” she asked, with an unfair bit of anger.

“We’re taking my skiff.” He responded almost before she had finished her question.

Annoying, but fair enough. She was obviously not driving to the hospital and Heijan would feel more comfortable in his own skiff on the winding hilly roadways that connected the Black Flats with Pota-Mei proper. She expected him to veer right at the end of the hallway and into the dining room, so they could go out the large panorama doors, but he lined the chair up for a full speed turn down the angled staircase. She gasped as they approached the first step, but he hugged the left rail at the landing, swiveled around so they were now leaning backwards down the stairs, and swung wide around the corner, angling slightly into the turn. They landed smoothly and before Xaviera could even process what happened they were turned back around and heading right of the staircase and out the mudroom door which, frighteningly, was already open.

“Had he programmed the chair to control the entire house?” She thought. She wanted to ask how, when, where, and with what materials he was able to retro-fit this cheap piece of furniture. A sharp jolt of pain in her lower back and pelvis interjected though.

“You don’t have the strength or resolve to dig for these answers right now,” the pain said. She acquiesced and returned to the moment. “Honor the moment.” Was the mantra her mother would always stress. Now it was more important than ever. They continued out of the mud room door towards the garage. Heijan swiveled around again so they were moving backwards.

The backyard was on her left and separated from the path to the garage by about a 10-foot-high retaining wall. The house was geometric, with large masses intersecting at odd angles and flat roofs overlapping at different levels. The house was well lit on every side, especially in front. The up-lighting in the front yard glowed around a dark silhouette of the outline of the building. The back yard up-lighting created a softer glow, and a bizarre array of interweaving shadows and highlights within that silhouette. The windows were chemically treated so they were black from the outside and reflected no light. Xaviera had never seen her own home from this angle and at this time of day, (if she was ever outside at night it was on the patio). It looked more like a haunted military bunker than a private home. She was a bit disconcerted to know that this is what her husband loved to see every day when he came home from work.

This visual was probably more troubling than Heijan’s odd hours, unusual strength, and peculiar furniture engineering skills. But not more troubling than the vaginal pain that shocked her back into the present.

“Honor the moment.”

They arrived in the garage loft, whose door was already open. Xaviera had not been out to the garage in years. She always assumed it was a simple tool storage shed with a stairway down to the skiff-port below. There was no longer a stairway, or even a loft for that matter. Heijan had apparently expanded the upper level of the garage to span its entire length. There was now a mechanical lift fixed to a large beam in the roof above. It looked like it was meant to carry a rather heavy load.

“Why would Heijan need such equipment?” Xaviera thought. She saw a large L-shaped work bench in the near left corner of the “loft,” with a bunch of small, intricate, and unrecognizable tools scattered about it.

“That must the operating table be where this chair was re-born.” She thought.

Heijan piloted the chair across a cluttered floor and over to the lift. Xaviera caught a brief glimpse into the door of a small adjacent room. It was dimly lit with dark green light. She thought she saw a pile of dirt filling half the room and a table with a large glass tank. The tank was filled with a clear, viscous liquid and a small object that looked not much different from a volcanic rock, but it seemed to move and…

“Ouch!” Sharp pain down left side of lower back, buttocks, vagina and belly. The pains were getting more intense.

Heijan locked the chair into the lift and pressed a button on the chair, or maybe on the lift, and they were slowly lowered to the skiff-port. The port itself was more or less as Xaviera remembered it from four years ago, except for two large hydraulic arms holding what looked like aircraft turbines. At this point she wondered if they would be driving, boating, or flying to the hospital. Or maybe he had a robot obstetric ward in the garden.
I enjoyed the beginning of this despite the fact that it starts with someone waking.

However as it developed there were potholes and bumps that derailed me.

I won't go into mechanics of writing, rather I thought to focus on my impression of what derailed me. I might be singular in this regard, so lots of salt.

First the POV seems sketchy at the beginning--sort of vacillating between Haijan and Xavier. Then it seems to focus upon Xavier and I can see why, but that's what begins to cause the problem--for me.

The story becomes quickly sidetracked from the immediacy of Xavier's perceived problem and an enormous amount of world-building and display of dazzling tech. This could work, however quickly we discover that Xavier is dumbfounded--as much as the reader--about subsequent events occurring with the possibility of fantastic technological changes implemented in her environment. To a certain extent I can buy that there might be some things that Haijan may have done that Xavier is unaware. However the way they are portrayed and how she sees them lend a high level of surreal to the entire narrative so that as we reach the end it is almost a certainty--for this reader--that this has to be a dream.

So now we open with the main character waking up to what feels like a dream(surreal)and I'm not so excited about what comes next.

There may be too much focus on the gadgetry and not enough on the raw feeling of the main character, because they should be in a fierce panic over what might be happening to them to a tune of not being able to process all of what is happening around them and suddenly noticing all these things they had no idea their counterpart, or whatever Heijan is, has been doing. As it is this distraction of the character from immediate by the strange technology seems to rob the piece of it's purpose--which I think is to try to get the reader to continue to read.

Again this is just how it impacted me and there will be others commenting soon who may differ with me.
Thanks @tinkerdan. Definitely been feeling those things too. Too much thought and not enough raw feeling. Should focus more squarely on Xaviera's POV.
It's considered one of the many trope that are to be avoided as beginnings of a story when possible.
However I must confess of my two novels I start one with someone waking up and the next with a dream--so I really can't complain.

When looking at your website I might insert here that it might be more productive to start where they are headed toward the Basin and Xaviera is puzzled and anxious by this and then you could drip in some earlier events if you need to; but that bit of panic about heading into a prison zone at top speed seems more interesting than what you have above.
Thanks. I really appreciate all the time you put into searching out and reading all that.

It does make sense to have her reflect on the details once she's calmer. Chapter two is basically her in a hospital bed, in and out of dreamy-hallucination, reflecting on the previous 24 hours and her life before that.
The main concerns here are:

1. POV use - it's very inconsistent. One moment we're in Xaviera's head, the next we're in Heijan's. It makes for disjointed reading. There's very much a modern trend for sticking with just one character's viewpoint in a scene.

2. Character development - too much feels very objective. Which might not be a problem if we're only in Heijan's POV as it might be a coping mechanism - and he does dominate this scene - but when we're in Xaviera's we should be feeling more emotion. Generally, though, there's too much flippant comment and lack of emotional reaction and depth here - in what should otherwise feel like an emotionally tense scene.

3. It doesn't feel real - this feels like someone writing about something they don't know anything about. Maybe it's just because your experience is different, but do be aware that you're writing about an issue that is surprising common and potentially very upsetting. So unless you pull it off in a way that's sympathetic and realistic then at best you'll throw the reader out of the story, at worse you'll have them put the book down.

4. Punctuation - make sure you brush up on this, as your dialogue tags are wrong. Here's a quick lesson:

If a person is attributed to having said something with a speaking action, then you need to do this:

"Something is wrong," she muttered/said etc

You use a full stop and capital letter after dialogue when the following action does not relate to speaking it, ie:

"Something is wrong." She turned to her husband.

Overall, I think there are a number of critical technical problems with this piece that means it's probably not ready for publishing yet. Of course, you could simply try anyway, but you may benefit from trying to brush up this manuscript.

A couple of potentially helpful books:

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer - comprehensively covers the technicalities of writing
Save the Cat by Jack Snyder - covers character emotional development, and a couple of other things to help with the above book.

Hope that helps.

Thanks @Brian G Turner. Very very helpful. Set to publish in 11 months, so I'm taking time to get every bit of feedback from everyone whose opinion I trust. Definitely want to get it right.
Not open for further replies.